A group of Havelock North residents are considering taking legal action against Spark and the Hastings District Council, after hearing about Spark's decision to build a new 4G cell tower.
It's a decision the residents fought a three-year battle against.
On Monday, Spark announced it was making a significant investment into mobile connectivity across the Hastings region, boosting capacity to the existing 4G network and introducing 5G to central Hastings, Mayfair, Parkvale, Mahora West, Flaxmere, Raureka, Akina and Camberley.
Spark identified that the current cell site serving the Te Mata area in Havelock North was reaching maximum capacity back in 2018, however a cell tower build was delayed due to opposition from a small group of local residents in 2019.
More than two years on, a second site serving Havelock North had now become congested as it took the extra load, Spark said.
"If we don't proceed, connectivity across Havelock North will become increasingly degraded over time as the existing sites in the region become overloaded," said Hastings resident and Spark Sales Enablement Lead Leisa Epplett.
"The recent lockdowns have highlighted just how important it is for everyone in Aotearoa to have good quality connectivity at home.
"Data usage on our mobile network increases by 40 per cent annually and we invest over $100 million every year to ensure we can meet that demand.
"It is critical that we bring some of that investment to Hastings, particularly to areas like Havelock North, where connectivity has further worsened over lockdown, impacting our customers' ability to work, learn, and connect from home."
Havelock North resident Stephen Fookes, one of the community members who spoke out about the tower in 2019, said the residents were "playing a game with a whole lot of bullies".
Fookes said 120 residents opposed the cell tower being built and he was "extremely disappointed" about Spark's decision, and contemplating legal action.
"Spark's decision is not in the interest of customers. There arrogance and bullying all along has been a concern," he said.
"We will be having a meeting of the residents and come to a decision about what to do next."
Hastings District Council mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said legal action was an option for the residents, if that's what they wanted.
"I have been facilitating discussions between the resident's working group and Spark over the last three years to try and help the parties find a solution acceptable to all. However, that has not been successful," she said.
"Legal action is an option for them, as it is for anyone, however the consenting of this cell phone tower is not within the control of council.
"I have very strongly encouraged Spark to fully engage with residents throughout this process."
She added that a resource consent for this cell phone tower was not required from council.
"Under the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities Regulations 2016, the cell phone tower is a permitted activity.
"In this instance, Spark applied for a certificate of compliance which, provided it met the NEST, council was required to issue."
Epplett said residents had asked Spark to find an alternative location for the site, but unfortunately there wasn't one which would deliver the coverage footprint that was needed.
"While we are disappointed not to have been able to resolve all of the residents' concerns, we believe we have done everything possible to try to do so, and we must now do what is right for the connectivity needs of the wider community."
Spark will recommence building of the 4G site in Havelock North, where congestion is the most acute, in the coming weeks, and expects to complete the broader rollout across Hastings, which includes 5G, before Christmas.